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Hewlett-Packard Company (HPQ)’s Strong Q2 Showcases the Growing Irrelevance of PCs

Associated Press coverage of Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ)‘s quarterly earnings report on Wednesday opened with this statement: “Hewlett-Packard’s slump is deepening as the world’s largest personal computer maker scrambles to meet the growing demand for more versatile and less expensive mobile devices.”

The AP’s coverage of the earnings report buried the fact that HP actually beat earnings expectations and raised its outlook for the current fiscal year. Moreover, while it’s factually accurate that Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) is the world’s largest personal-computer maker, PCs are actually a minor component of HP’s overall business from a profit perspective.

Based on HP’s strong stock performance on Thursday — shares rose 17% to close at $24.86, after hitting a new 52-week high of $24.95 — investors are starting to see past the weak PC business. As I have previously written, while the PC group is the largest HP business segment by revenue, it is no longer a major profit driver for the company. Instead, investors should value Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) based on its opportunities in other business segments, such as printing and enterprise IT.

PC decline is overblown
After IDC reported last month that HP’s PC unit shipments had declined 23.7% in Q1, a flurry of concern about HP’s PC business (re)surfaced. Many investors worried that Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ)was bearing the brunt of the PC market’s weakness. Last week, key competitor Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL) reported a decline in PC sales and massive margin erosion for last quarter, which further heightened concerns about HP’s PC results.

However, while HP saw a larger decline in PC revenues than Dell last quarter, it was because the two companies adopted opposite strategies. Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL) chose to cut prices in an attempt to gain market share. As a result, its “End User Computing” division’s operating margin dropped from 6.5% to 2.5%.

Hewlett-Packard CompanyMeanwhile, Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) decided to prioritize profitability over market share. PC segment operating margin fell more modestly year over year, from 5.4% to 3.2%. That drop led to a 54% decline in the division’s operating income, compared with 2012. That said, PC operating income actually improved by $16 million compared with the previous quarter.

In short, HP’s apparently disastrous PC results were actually the result of a conscious decision to pursue profitability rather than market share in the PC business. Since the PC market will continue to decline over time, emphasizing profitability over market share seems like a very good strategy.

Profit comes from elsewhere
Investors also need to put the PC business in perspective compared with HP as a whole. The segment’s operating income of $239 million last quarter represented less than 10% of total segment operating income across the company (which excludes unallocated costs). Since the PC business involves minimal fixed costs, Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) should be able to manage future PC revenue declines without bleeding red ink. For example, PC segment profitability increased sequentially last quarter in spite of an 8% revenue decline.

By contrast, the printing division produced operating income of $958 million last quarter: quadruple that of the PC group. The printer business has rebounded strongly this year because of HP’s industry-leading position and new initiatives to improve sales and profitability.

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